Kerkel makes career-high 24 saves as upset bid falls just short
KEENE, N.H. – Junior Zel Kerkel (Loudon, N.H.) made a career-high 24 saves and fourth-seeded Plymouth State University rallied used five straight second-half goals to threaten top-seeded Keene State College before falling late, 14-10, in the semifinal round of the Little East Conference (LEC) men's lacrosse tournament at the Owl Athletic Complex on Thursday evening.
The Owls (11-4) advance to the championship game on Saturday, while Plymouth State (8-10) sees its season come to an end.
Facing a 10-4 deficit at the half, Plymouth held the high-powered KSC offense scoreless during the third period as the Panthers chipped away at the lead. Senior Drew Lederer (Jefferson, Mass.) scored a man-up goal with 8:04 left in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 10-10, before senior John Nassif (Hanover, Mass.) singlehandedly willed Keene State to the win with three goals in a four minute stretch.
The Owls raced out to a 2-0 start, as Nassif finished off a pass from sophomore Connor Nolan (Plymouth, N.H.) in the first 52 seconds of play, before senior Hunter Arnold (Boxborough, Mass.) struck at the 13:24 mark. Junior Paul Luongo (Northborough, Mass.) found the back of the net first for Plymouth State with 10:13 to go, before senior Paul Beling (Holliston, Mass.) countered for the Owls to make it 3-1.
The Panthers continued to put on the pressure as Luongo scored his second of the first quarter off a feed from Lederer to make it a one goal game, but the Owls rattled off three straight goals to close out the first period with a four goal advantage.
Plymouth State scored back-to-back goals to open the second quarter, as Lederer connected with junior Chris Waterbury (Clinton, Conn.), who tucked one past the Owls' goalie, before junior Casey Elkins (Stow, Mass.) capitalized on an Owls' turnover and scored to cut the Panthers' deficit to two, 6-4, at the 10:51 mark. From there the hosts delivered four unanswered goals to make it 10-4. With just 54 seconds remaining, Plymouth State knocked down the final goal of the first half when senior Cam Cormier (Auburn, Maine) finished off a feed from sophomore Thomas Kelly (Chantilly, Va.) to make it a 10-5 game going into the half.
PSU controlled the third quarter holding the Owls scoreless. Waterbury found the back of the cage for his second of the game in the first two minutes of the frame, and junior Ryan Croatti (Brunswick, Maine) added a tally seven minutes later to make it 10-7. Freshman Connor Delea (Manchester, N.H.) scored his team-leading 27th goal of the year and Croatti added a man-down score with 81 seconds left in the quarter to cut the margin to 10-9, setting up Lederer's game-tying goal midway through the fourth quarter.
Waterbury, Luongo and Croatti each scored twice for the Panthers, while Lederer and Elkins both tallied a goal and two assists. Sophomore Charlie Harrington (Walpole, Mass.) led the Panthers with six ground balls and four caused turnovers.
Nassif finished with a career-best eight goals, while freshman Matthew Lemke (Agawam, Mass.) scooped up a game-high 13 ground balls. Senior Mathew Howe (Bedford, N.H.) and sophomore J.J. Tinney (Natick, Mass.) combined for six saves, with Tinney registering his first win of the year (1-0).
Keene outshot the Panthers by a 67-26 margin, but Kerkel made 24 stops, including ten in the second quarter alone, to keep the Panthers close all game. With the loss he ends his season with an 8-10 mark.
The Owls will look to capture a fifth-straight LEC title on Saturday when they host second-seeded Eastern Connecticut State University. The setback marked the final game in the careers of PSU's eight seniors; Cormier, Evan Gennell (Londonderry, N.H.), Joe Hafkemeyer (Brookfield, Conn.), Mike Cooney (Stratford, Conn.), Lederer, Kyle Stockman (Ballston Lake, N.Y.), Lucas McCue (Brunswick, Maine) and Justin Roos (Coram, N.Y.).
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